ACLU Demands Mississippi School Allow Lesbian Student To Attend Prom With Girlfriend

For Immediate Release

ACLU Demands Mississippi School Allow Lesbian Student To Attend Prom With Girlfriend

Group Tells School Its Ban On Same-Sex Prom Dates Is Unconstitutional

FULTON, MS - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Safe Schools
Coalition today demanded that Itawamba County School District officials
reverse their decision to forbid a lesbian student from attending prom
with her girlfriend and from wearing a tuxedo to the prom. Constance
McMillen, a student at Itawamba Agricultural High School, said that
school officials told her that she could not arrive at the prom with
her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS, and that they might be thrown
out if any other students complained about their presence.

“Prom is one of those high school moments everyone should get to
experience and enjoy. I didn’t go to prom last year, so this is my only
chance to go,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at the school in
Fulton, a small town of about 3,900 in the northeastern corner of
Mississippi. “We just want to be able to be ourselves at our own prom.”

McMillen said she approached school officials shortly before a memo
about prom was circulated at school on February 5 that said same-sex
dates would not be allowed, because she knew same-sex dates had been
banned from prom in the past. McMillen met with the assistant principal
and later the superintendent, who told her that they would not be
allowed to arrive together, that she would not be allowed to wear a
tuxedo to prom, and that she and her girlfriend might be thrown out if
their presence made any other students “uncomfortable” at the April 2
event.

“Prom is supposed to be about all students being able to express
themselves, have fun, and make memories that will last the rest of
their lives,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of
Mississippi. “Constance has a constitutional right to take the person
she’s dating to the prom, just like any other student at any other
public school.”

In today’s letter to Itawamba County School District officials, the
ACLU cited federal court cases guaranteeing students’ First Amendment
right to bring same-sex dates to school dances, and also pointed out
that treating McMillen and other lesbian, gay, and bisexual students
differently from other students violates the Constitution’s equal
protection guarantees. In addition to illegally barring McMillen and
her girlfriend from attending the prom together, the ACLU said that the
school further violated McMillen’s free expression rights by telling
her that she can’t wear a tuxedo to the prom.

“We hope that informing the school about its legal obligations
towards its students will make it think twice about treating Constance
and her girlfriend any differently than it does any other student
couple who wants to go to the prom,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior
Counsel with the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender
Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi.
“Schools that discriminate against lesbian, gay, and bisexual students
who want to bring same-sex dates to school dances need to know that by
doing so they’re violating established federal law, and we will call
them on it.”

The ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition have given the
school district until March 10, 2010 to respond to their letter.

Additional information, including a copy of the school’s prom memo and the ACLU’s demand letter, is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination.

The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition was formed in the fall of
2008 to address discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender students, or students perceived to be LGBT, in Mississippi
public schools and colleges. The MSSC works closely with the ACLU of
Mississippi to educate teachers, students, and administrators about the
rights of LGBT students with the aim of making schools safer for all.
The MSSC is youth-led, and any questions about student rights at prom,
starting a gay-straight alliance club, or any other safe schools issues
can be directed to Ashley Jackson, facilitator, at ashley@mssafeschools.org.

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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